We have been hearing Jesus in a lot of arguments these past few weeks, but this one feels different somehow. There is no back and forth between Jesus and the questioner, no probing questions from Jesus in response, no mysterious parable offered.
Jesus seems simply to have no time for this question because, I think, the question itself presupposes only death. It is death upon death upon death…7 times in fact. And the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the God that called to Moses in the desert to free God’s people from bondage and slavery into freedom and justice and new life, has no patience with a worldview that starts and ends only in death.
Now God is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all of them are alive Jesus says.
Furthermore, the Sadducees riddle posits an afterlife which is pretty unimaginative. I mean, not only is the woman in this hypothetical viewed only in relationship to men in both life and death, and thus still subject in the afterlife to the same oppressive power structures Jesus’ whole ministry is in opposition to, but the resurrection described simply replicates the way life works here and now. This world, its relationships and problems and ways of living and interacting are simply transferred from this life to the next.
This is not how God works, Jesus says. In God we find a qualitatively different kind of life, and a qualitatively different kind of death. In God systems and relationships and structures which are not life-giving have no place. Now God is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all of them are alive.
Jesus offers no details or description of what resurrection looks like. And much like I wish he would explicitly call out the patriarchal assumptions of the Sadducees, I also wish he provide more detail of how resurrection works….but that is not what we get.
What we do get is a clear response that life in God, resurrected life, is completely different than the life we live without God. The systems and ways we interact with one another are fundamentally changed in a resurrected life…are transformed in the love of God.
What is posited by the question in today’s Gospel is a transactional understanding of life and death. But Jesus says, hold up, that is not how God works. God is the God of the living. Life in God is not a series of transactions from birth to marriage to children to death. Life in God, even death in God, is transformed by the love of God which is always generative and creative.
And we are called to participate in that life of love.
We are all here, I think, because this is a place, this is a community of followers of Christ, where we find life. And that means, I think, as Jesus is teaching us in today’s Gospel, that this is a place where God creates new life and where the transactional patterns of the world are transformed into the life-giving love of the kingdom of God.
And one place where that contrast between transaction and transformation is clear is when it comes to money. The world tries to tell us that spending our money will lead to a new life…..but that’s a lie. Buying a new phone or new shoes or whatever can feel good for a bit, trust my friends I have a closet full of shoes to prove that….but it is ultimately deeply unsatisfying because it is only a transaction. I give someone my credit card and they give me something in return and that thing gets old or breaks or the novelty wears off and I am right where I started.
But sharing my money in this place, giving toward the life-giving work of God that is happening here….that is transformative. A few weeks ago Martin shared that he and Phoebe tithe, they give 10% of their money away. Since I started here with you good people, I have also pledged 10% of my salary from Grace to Grace.
Which from a transactional view seems kind of silly, right? I mean wouldn’t it make more sense to just say I will work for 10% less rather than go through the motions of you all paying me and then me returning the money back to Grace?
But something happens in that process…in that circle. In the process of Grace giving me a stipend, in the process of you all in this room paying me, I am incorporated into the life and family of this place. And then when I pledge it back to Grace, it becomes so much more than simply a few hundred dollars per month. It is transformed, in and through God’s life-giving Spirit and the good work and people of this place, into something greater than it was……
And that is not to say that only money does that. It certainly does not. But just as resurrection is the promise that our whole selves, our entire being from the tops of our heads to the tips of our toes, will ultimately find new life in God, when we give of our whole selves to this place….our time, our talent, and yes, our treasure, we are fully participating in the life-giving kingdom of God.
God takes our offerings, our money and talents, our bread and wine, and transforms them into something life-giving. The experience of being in this place is far more than the sum of its parts….I mean we have to pay for the heat to be on and the lights to be lit and the space to be clean and the clergy to be here…but those transactions are transformed in and through and with God into a community of Sunday morning worship of song and praise, into a parish hall full of Phame students drumming along with We Will Rock You, into classrooms full of children making art and friendships every summer at Grace Art Camp, and into tables full of hot and delicious food for those who join us here every Friday night. Just as God transforms everything, even death, into new life, so does God transform all we give to Grace into life and hope and love.
(For 10 am…. In a few minutes, right before the Peace, we will be taking some time to prayerfully consider our financial commitment to Grace for the upcoming year, fill out our pledge cards, and bring them up to the altar. I love that we do this together, as an act of worship and praise and community to be blessed and celebrated together. Thank you for all you are and all you do and all you bring to this place.).
Now God is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all of them are alive.
When Jeanne asked me to speak today in preparation for Consecration Sunday, I thought about all the reasons I love Grace: for the opportunities to feed the poor, for the privilege of worshiping in this beautiful sanctuary, for good sermons and most of all, for the sense of community.
And I am so grateful for all of those things, but today I would like to tell you about a very different church.
In 1890 the Presbyterians built a church on the corner of SW 1st and Gibbs in Portland’s Lair Hill district. It was a pretty church. Not as elegant and grand as Grace but very pleasing to the eye. It had a cathedral ceiling and arched windows with pieces of colored glass. A dark wainscoting went up about 4 feet on all the walls, and a balcony, with natural wood railings, hung over the rear of the sanctuary.
At some point in time, I couldn’t tell you when, the church was sold to the Union Gospel Mission and was renamed Friendly Chapel.
In the late 60s the Lair Hill neighborhood became Portland’s hippie district. The psychedelic supermarket opened just down the street from the church – a place that sold everything needed for smoking pot, except the pot itself. For that you had to go to Lair Hill Park.
During that time Willard, the pastor of Friendly Chapel, began reaching out to the young people in the neighborhood. He invited them to church and even volunteered to officiate at weddings. And, unlike many pastors of that time, he didn’t care if the bride and groom were already living together.
In 1970 a Christian coffee house opened in the basement of the church. In addition to the live music, homemade bread and other treats were offered. It became a popular neighborhood hangout.
Many of the young people who went to the coffee house Saturday began to find their way to the Sanctuary Sunday morning, and at some point, the hippies and ex-hippies outnumbered the existing congregation. Unfortunately, except for a handful of people, the older members felt uncomfortable and left. Union Gospel mission offered to rent the church to Willard and the new congregation, but they wanted their name back. And so the Prince of Peace was born – a congregation of young, zealous members.
Bible studies sprang up and the new Christians took the teachings seriously. Sometimes there were heated discussions about what a parable meant or how to apply it to your life, and some things, like loving your neighbor, appeared obvious. One point that seemed very cut and dry to most was tithing – literally giving 10% of your income to God and the church.
So people began to tithe. Now I can’t say for certain that everyone gave 10% of their income, but I know that the pastor gave $20 out of his weekly salary of $200 and donations of that amount, and more, were given weekly. There were no pledge cards or anything that resembled Consecration Sunday; just an occasional sermon. Annual donations ranged anywhere from $250 to $2000. Adjusted for inflation, that would be about $1200 to $9500.00 today.
Of course it is easy to say that those numbers don’t really correspond to today’s expenditures. Housing prices have soared past the rate of inflation and medical cost and other expenses have skyrocketed.
But these young Christians were not affluent and most were in their 20’s. Many couples had small children. No one drove a new – or newer car. Some heated with wood that they cut and split themselves. Clothes came from thrift stores and women got together to can, freeze and dry, fruits and vegetables for the winter. They gave even though they were struggling.
I would like to be able to tell you that they all became wealthy; that they started fortune 500 companies or became CEOs of large corporations. But giving to God is not a quid pro quo; we give because we want to, and are supposed to.
However most of the members became homeowners and found good jobs. Some started reasonably successful businesses. It was a time of transition: from counter culture to mainstream America, from poverty level to middle class. But during that time of transition the young congregation gave to their church – and they gave generously.
From the moment we enter this world we are quantified.
Newborns are whisked away from their parents and weighed and measured. They are scored 1 minute after birth and then again at 5 minutes on this scale called the Apgar scale, which from 1 to 10 rates how healthy they are when they are first born.
And this comes from a very good place, I think. This comes from an intention to protect something so vulnerable and new in the world.
But it keeps going, doesn’t it?
I remember as a new parent going anxiously to the pediatrician, at 3 months at 6 months, and given graphs showing where my child fell on the growth curve. I was given scores every 3 or 6 months of how well they were measuring up against the developmental milestones they were expected to be achieving every 3 or 6 months.
And this keeps going and going. When they enter school they have to know a certain number of sight words by the end of kindergarten and are ranked in their reading level compared to their peers in their grade. Assessments are given, standardized tests, college rankings, what major you should choose based on what you will earn…on and on and on. Our lives are quantified by mathematical formulas.
And I think this comes from the same place as it does at the beginning of our lives: to protect us from being a human being in this world, and unpredictable and scary world where we are so vulnerable. And so we hold onto these things we can quantify, these solid numbers that tell us “yes, our children are going to be ok, yes, we are ok.”
And so in this morning’s Gospel when we hear the Pharisee go to the temple and begin to pray to God (and perhaps to those who are surrounding him) and share how he is measuring up in his life of prayer, in his righteousness, in his justification before God. He prays “I fast twice a week when only once is expected, I give 10% of my income.” I suspect that this impulse in the Pharisee is coming from a similar place, an attempt to guarantee his righteousness and holiness in front of God.
And before I go on I just want to make a quick note about the Pharisees, because it is easy, especially when we spend a lot of time in the Gospel of Luke, to kind of equate Pharisee with hypocrite or corrupt official. And that has more to do with the writer of the Gospel of Luke and the context in which he was writing than it does with the tradition of Pharasaical Judaism which is a rich, important and valuable tradition in the Jewish faith. In fact, there are many scholars who believe that Jesus himself was raised up within the Pharisee tradition. So just a sort of caveat as I go on in this sermon and any time we talk about the Pharisees, please know this is Jesus offering a parable, a character and not something we should use to judge this entire tradition within Judaism.
All that being said, Jesus is very, very critical of this Pharisee in today’s parable. He is critical of the way the Pharisee is attempting to quantify his righteousness and prove himself to be justified in front of God. But perhaps even more so Jesus is critical of this Pharisee when, in temple, when he is praying and the Pharisee looks across and sees a tax collector also there, praying, obviously deeply hurt and in pain, beating his breast, the Pharisee’s reaction is “Thank God, I am not like him.”
That image of the tax collector beating his breast is quite an arresting one, it is almost as if in the presence of God he is trying to break his own heart open, and present it to the Lord.
The academic and sociologist, Parker Palmer, suggests that there are two images we can keep in our mind’s eye when we think about a heart being broken. The first is imagining the heart as a brittle and fragile thing, that when it breaks it breaks like a wine glass dropped on the hard kitchen floor, smashing into thousands of pieces, shards flying everywhere, never to be made whole again.
The other image he suggests we use for a broken heart is that of a fist. A fist in the middle of our chest that when it is broken opens up like a hand, fingers splayed wide, to hold our own hurt but also to hold the hurt of the world in the palm of our hand.
I would suggest today that the tax collector in today’s Gospel, when the Pharisee saw him, was trying to do that very thing, to break open his heart like a hand to recognize in that moment that whatever hurt or anguish or pain had brought him to that place that day, he was ultimately and completely at God’s mercy, vulnerable before God reliant entirely on God’s grace and love.
What’s also interesting about this image, this gesture that the tax collector uses in the temple that morning, this gesture that Jesus refers to in describing him, this beating your breast or chest is one reserved for women in this culture that Jesus lived in. And more specifically women who were grieving a deep and painful loss.
There is perhaps no more powerful emotion in our human experience than that of grief. And perhaps within that spectrum of grief nothing more overwhelming and painful than a parent’s grief at losing a child. The image I imagine for this kind of grief is that it is like being dropped into a dark ocean, angry and stormy, with nothing to hold onto and no land in sight, trying desperately to keep your head above water.
I have some friends, Mary and Dustin, who I think are in this deep abyss of grief right now. I don’t know if y’all had heard of this story by there was a young man, named Owen Klinger, who went missing a couple of weeks ago and his parents were searching for him along with a lot of us as well. Owen was in kindergarten with my daughter and we have known Owen, and Owen’s parents, since those early school days. We did not know Owen well, I do remember Owen as a joyous, athletic, funny, musical kid who was always there. He was really a beautiful boy.
And so last week on Tuesday, at the University of Portland where Owen was in his first year, the community there had a mass to come together and grieve the loss of Owen who, after being missing for two weeks, his body was discovered in the Willamette River. It was clear that the deepest fears of his parents and those who knew him had come true, that he had died.
And this community gathered in the chapel of the University of Portland and mourned the loss of their friend, of their brother, of their son. And after that service Mary and Dustin went out to the press that had gathered in front of the chapel and spoke to them.
And in that moment Mary, most especially, embodied a heart which has been broken, not like glass on the kitchen floor but like a hand put forward to the world. She shared that when she had dropped Owen off at college a couple of months before, she had said to him “Owen, I want you to make a difference, I want you to impact this community.” She said she had wondered whether he was listening to her. But she said that morning just leaving from a service grieving her son, she said she realized that he had been listening to her. She said that even in his death he had made an impact on this community, that he had brought people together from all over the city who had looked for him, who had cared for him, who had prayed for him and who held him in prayer and love.
In that moment, her heart was broken open like a hand and she was saying, I think, that the value of his life could not be quantified in the too few years he had spent on this earth but in fact in the love and spirit he had embodied when he was alive and he continued to have in his death. In that moment, God held Mary’s heart and God held Owen’s as well.
I think, sometimes, we think of Christ’s divinity primarily in Christ’s strength, in the miraculous strength it took to overcome death and the power of the resurrection, in the joy we find on Easter morning. And my friends, that is real and there is true joy in the world and there is power in that image.
But I would also suggest that Christ’s divinity is found in his deep vulnerability, perhaps no more than when he was on the cross when he cried out in pain and anguish “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”. In that moment Christ is at his most human and most divine. And the good news is that even in that awful place, that there is no pain so deep, no grief so wide that Jesus or overwhelming that we human beings experience that Jesus is not there with us and always will be.
And we know that, I think, because every Sunday we gather at this altar and we remember Christ’s body broken and the blood poured out for us. And we offer up our hands and a piece of Christ’s heart is put in them and we take that piece of Christ and we bring it into ourselves. And we are called, my friends, to be brokenhearted people and sent out into the world, a world that desperately needs more broke hearts. Hearts broken open in sadness and grief, but also hearts broken open in joy and love.
I would like to leave you with a poem by Mary Oliver:
Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.
A friend told me
of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life
which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing,
and for which, if you have not heard it,
you had better hurry to where
they still sing.
And, believe me, tell no one
just where that is.
The next morning
this loon, speckled
and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home
to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.
Good morning. This is the third time over the past number of years that I’ve had the privilege of standing up here and sharing personally about what stewardship means for me. But this is the first time I’ve done so since having kids, and so when Father Martin prompted me to answer the questions, “What stories about money did I learn growing up, and do I still want to tell those stories or might I choose to replace them?” I started to think explicitly about which stories about money I am telling and want to tell my own kids.
My parents managed to somehow communicate two messages about money, both of which I still believe to be true and which are somewhat contradictory. And since parenting decision-making in general feels like walking a balance beam, why should this decision – what stories will we tell about money – be any different? So the two things I try to balance, in imitation of the balance my parents struck are:
First, money is neutral. Having more of it doesn’t make you more worthy of love. Asking for financial help doesn’t weaken you, doesn’t add “screw-up” to your identity. Giving financial help shouldn’t make you more powerful. The more you can give shouldn’t impact the influence you can have.
And second, money is deeply personal and how you choose to use your money says as much about your values than anything. My parents had this funny rule for us when we were kids, that in order to participate in communion we had to first prove our responsibility by showing we could sit through most of a church service holding our offering coins without dropping them. What I think was going on was quite practical – a dropped quarter makes no mess, a dropped cup of grape juice (we were Baptist) does. But I’m glad that with our kids at Grace we’ve flipped that. They receive first, they participate in the Eucharist, but we haven’t yet given them their own money, or the choice about how to use or where to give their money. And that’s because with that decision comes great responsibility to stick to one’s values when it comes to money…which can be really hard.
And finally, if how we choose to use our money is deeply personal and value-driven, then how we choose more specifically to “give” our money is even more deeply spiritual and values-based. The theologian William Cavanagh writes, “In a capitalist economy, the recipient is passive and the giver experiences giving as a removal of property. In the divine economy of gift, the giver is in the gift, goes with the gift.” This is never more clearly demonstrated than in the eternal giving of the Son and the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, “eternally begotten of the Father” and the Holy Spirit, “who proceeds from the Father and Son.” Inherent in the triune God is the gift of being, and we mirror this when we give.
What to expect when you are expecting the worst : living with metastatic breast cancer
I have been leery most of my life about showers. I saw Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in about 1960 at age 12; my parents were expecting a thriller very like The lady vanishes, and instead got two frightened children who they kept sending to the concession stand but who peeked. So it is probably understandable that it was in the shower where I first discovered my tumor with the size and shape of a Lego brick.
Statistically, I am a likely candidate for breast cancer. My mother had it, the Pacific NorthWest is a hotspot, and the unexpected is regularly sprinkled here and there among us.
Vladimir Putin had just invaded Ukraine at that point in time, February 2014, so naming the tumor Putin was easy. We have comfortably settled into informality; he’s now Vlad to me
Kaiser has a rather impressive army of specialists you see at the start of the adventure. They lay out an array of possible treatments, use jargon like tumor boards and estrogen positive receptors and I highly recommend bringing a scribe with you to any high stress medical encounter. My son and daughter came with me, allowing me to go into a trance, as one does, at the first mention of the word cancer.
There are some dismaying facts and statistics out there. The one in eight rate of women acquiring Breast Cancer isn’t inevitable, but certain sets of the population are genuinely at risk at some point. We can lower the odds of severe outcomes by early diagnosis and body awareness. Many women are the first diagnosed in their families – my mother was one – but many other women are aware of relatives who have struggled over the years.
My impression is that all varieties of the medical profession are still working to definitely know how and why cancer strikes. We know certain activities heighten the risk of disease. Smoking, heavy drinking, excess weight gain, being a down winder from a nuclear reactor, age, genetics and … ?? Diet?? Lifestyles?? Not to increase your paranoia, but infusion nurses have noticed and told me that they are seeing more and younger patients arriving for chemotherapy treatments.
My Vladimir Putin resurrected in 2016 and added some extra spots scattered across my ribs and other bones. So far, the variety of treatments I have received keeps the fires tamped down and my body reasonably functional. I was surprised that treatments aren’t based on Three strikes and you are out as I had assumed. The attention and publicity over the decades have paid off in a huge array of drugs, treatment plans and the tantalizing prospect of breast cancer along with all the other nasty varieties becoming a chronic disease.
Adding to the mysteries surrounding the disease, there are varying statistics by racial background. Diagnosis and treatment are uneven across the nation. Historically, access to studies and medical care has been unequally available across the population. African American women are statistically later to be diagnosed and more susceptible to resistant forms of cancer that really need early diagnosis. After living in the United States for a period of time, both African women and Latino women are reaching statistics similar to the African American experience.
In the last 9 years, the Portland chapter of the Susan G Komen Foundation has worked through the Worship in Pink program to focus on the African American community and to reach out to remind and encourage all populations of women to take proactive steps toward health. Grace Memorial has sponsored the program here over the past 4 to 5 years.
My experience has been one of having many different medicines infused into my veins, working to tamp down the aggression of my tumors. Side effects vary, some challenging others pretty mild. I may never have a normal head of hair again, but then what better excuse for hat shopping? Nurses know how to get you through treatment crises, they really are the best. The unexpected, which always happens has been the warmth, kindness and support of family and friends and neighbors. I feel the caring, I feel the sense of being held up by many. Family with whom I agree about nothing, pray for me. I am so blessed.
Some people have commented that I seem to be rather cheerful about my prospects. The reality for me is that when I was first diagnosed several friends were also treated for other forms of the disease – pancreatic cancer and ovarian cancer. Earlier, a friend had esophageal cancer. These are less common and less publicized maladies, and my friends had more difficult, challenging treatments leading to speedy deaths.
I cannot complain. I have lived well and have a good shot at making it to my goal — to vote in the 2020 election. Everyone needs goals!
Good Morning everyone, for those who do not know me, my name is Ben Snead and Father Martin asked me to share some words with you all today about why I value our faith community here at Grace. To start with some background, Im seventeen years old, a senior in high school and I’ve been attending Grace since I was baptized here months after my birth.
So with that I want to lay out three reasons why I appreciate the Grace community
#1 I appreciate how Grace has provided balance in my life
It should be pretty evident to anyone who has been a child, that between the ages of 0-17 you go through a lot of changes. I’ve lived in different houses, attended different schools, made different friends. So Im grateful to have always been able to return to a place like Grace every Sunday, to gather in this space with familiar faces, and to be able to put aside anything I might be worried about for at least an hour or two.
#2 I appreciate how Grace has helped me develop as a Christian
Through the years of coming to Grace I’ve been becoming more and more committed to following Christ as I move forward in life. I am confident that as I go out into the world as an adult, I can always lean my faith.
#3 I appreciate all the individuals I’ve met at Grace.
I’ve met people that I consider lifelong friends, I’ve met some very inspirational people, and throughout my involvement at Grace, I’ve learned the importance of being a responsible, reliable person, and treating people with love and respect.
I know I’ve benefited greatly from this church, and I believe I’m a better person because I have been a part of this community. I think it’s important to always be grateful for the work of everyone who over the years built this community to be the place that has been such a point of light in my life, and in the lives of many of the folks in this room. So, for those reasons, I think we should all continue to invest in and maintain Grace, so we can extend our reach and benefit others.